Gestures and Signed Language Used in Cartoons


What is language? We all have a notion that a language is a tool of communication or the main purpose of language is to convey information. Arguably, any answer to this question would certainly involve the word communication. We, therefore, consider language as a tool which the main purpose is communication.

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There is always a great advantage of pursuing a study concern with human ways of interaction, reviewing theories involved in linguistics or conducting academic research regarding languages. In line with Koster, a language is a communication tool having two components namely form and function.

The function is the purpose the language has to accomplish, while the form is the structure and usage of a communication tool (2007, p.1). This aspect qualifies the signs and gestures as effective tools of communication since they serve the purpose. The function of any communication tool determines and meets the requirements, which is defining the form of language to consider during the interaction.

The main function of a language comprises the greatest impact over its simple or intricate forms (Koster, 2007, p.1). Form of a language is thus made of variations such as physical gestures and the state of the environment as perceived by the audience. For this reason, if a form of communication lacks the main function of communication (need to convey a message), it is worthless.

There are infinite ideas that people constantly feel need to express at any given time and this intricate function of a language. According to Hartl, language consists of organized phrases, words, sentences, clauses and other communication structures that appear highly complex (2008, p.10).

Therefore, any form of languages, such as gestures or signs, conveys a message due to the intended function. Although any form of language is different from other existing forms, the functions are not determined mathematically or predictably.

Languages can be compared to the wide range of house designs that exist globally; whereby the main purpose (function) of any of these houses is to provide shelter and safety. Although there are wide superficial differences in languages, there exist basic similarities. For instance, facial expressions are not defined as the language, but they assist people in understanding a message.

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Historical overview of the sign language and gesturing

Movement of body parts, particularly hands and arms, to accompany speech or used in case spoken communication is undesirable or impossible dates back historically. The signing was arguably a practice connected to simple grimaces, hand pointing or shrugs (Cisneros, Alexanian, Begay, and Goldberg, n.d, p.13).

For this reason, the use of body movements is arguably a practice that existed earlier than speech was invented. According to Cisneros et al., Avran Noam Chomsky a world-renowned ‘linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, and activist’ from America indicated that the process of acquiring a language emerges intrinsically. Chomsky gave a good example of children who have a common background.

Such children share similar internal controls that affect grammar. Chomsky thus believed that there is a specific age that is best suited for critical learning of any language since learning to the mind is what practice to the body. Technical expressions that occur during communication may also involve delicate combinations of uniquely coded indicators, enforced by facial expressions (Shelly and Schneck, 1998, p.9).

When the speech or sign language fails to convey the required meaning, gestures are implemented to bridge the gap. Some gestures are mutually understood; for instance, a thump up would mean satisfaction. In line with Chomsky’s theory “Universal Grammar is the system of principles, conditions, and rules that are elements or properties of all human languages…

It is the essence of human language.”(Hartl, 2008, p.9)Although faced with the challenge of the difference of languages, the North American Indians have perfect means of communication through shared elements and symbols. (Susan, 2005, p.293) Use of signs is a mutually acceptable and intelligent means of communication that dates back in history.

By Susan, the concept of signing during communication in a dialogue or speech presentation was very common and was easy to understand among huge groupings (2005, p.293). Today, various gestures are implemented as sign-language codes, to depict ideas, objects, feelings, and actions. Signs also assist in bringing out the concepts that cannot be represented through gestures.

The two concepts thus function cordially and are flexible as well as complex. Although sign language is historically quoted to have originated from France, the United States through the world-renowned founder Thomas Gallaudet introduced American Sign Language in 1816, which is still in use to date as one of the most common languages.

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Sign languages have developed and most importantly bonded more users across borders, in comparison to common languages due to the similarities of concepts. The concept of hand signing that concurs with lip-reading is often used in comic industries since they represent sounds as opposed to concepts in a language. The practice is already adopted in the majority of the languages globally (Shelly and Schneck, 1998, p.73).

Informal communication

Non-verbal communication involves the use of body expressions particularly eye contact, posture, facial reactions, physical appearance, touch, and hand movements. Informally written communication permits a variety of casual relations, for instance, body language to indicate emotions such as boredom, surprise, sadness or aggressiveness.

Linguistics recognizes that gestures and sign languages are fully formed to model human communication naturally. This is due to uniqueness on the arrangement of words or phrases, like the phonologically formed rules of English or the study of English word known as morphology (Hartl, 2008, p.19).

Humour in Language

Chomsky’s theory indicates that various definitions show humor as a general human characteristic brought about by natural responses. Humour is automatically assigned to find an intellectual meaning, which determines human emotions, and partially acts as a social platform (Hartl, 2008, p.19).

According to Cisneros et al., when an aspect is presented in a humorous state, there is common understanding since participants or audience experience and share a common social background (n.d, p.1). The involvement determines the cultural setting and platform where people can come together and share an aspect representable in different contexts.

Human unity of sharing is thus achievable through humorous experiences. Humour can, therefore, be closely connected to language due to the ability to merge the social, cultural and rational variables, to bring about a common understanding. The structural establishment of a language in terms of understanding, lingual or cultural powers can only be established in a humorous context.

A major aspect utilized in-jokes and humor is the fact that diction varied marginally gives a different meaning or understanding. However, the audience should share the social-cultural background, to understand the humor in such variations. As Cisneros et al. put it, there is a great difference between human imagination and the semantic representation of ideas (n.d, p.1).

Jokes can thus be ideas presented in phrases or words that may sound funny and amuse the audience. Humour is predetermined formally in the effort of amusing, and the outcome depends on its delivery to the audience. However, the presentation has to be in the right format.

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Performers have to keep in mind the fact that human experiences are often similar and therefore like idioms or metaphors in language, jokes can be reprocessed depending on the scenario. The reason jokes are often shared across cultural, social or lingual backgrounds due to overtime reoccurrence and easy recognition, due to the structure.

Characters in-jokes keep changing, but the structure remains as a sample for creative reinventions, depending on situation and context. However, when a joke is highly dependent on the context, humor is subject to the shared understanding and knowledge. In such a situation, the speaker must be inventive and thoughtful within the context of the language such as by use of irony or sarcasm.

Such jokes are hard to repeat successfully, due to the changing nature of the context and words. Humorous tasks are often seen as second or third class sub-genres that lack good literature or have remarkable communication aspects that emerge from verbal humor (Galinanes, 2000, p.96).

A realistic analysis of the verbal structure of jokes cannot be directly used in humorous texts. According to Galinanes’ writing, the psychological theory of humor indicates that any pleasurable effects emanate from a mixture of ability to recognize inconsistency, surprise and satisfaction and the ability to solve a problem (2000p.96).

In a language, puns represent words with great similarity in either pronunciation or writing. In gesturing or signing communicating such word highly depends on forms, body or hand movements, positioning, and physical orientation. Linguistically, Irony represents two meaning, an overview and hidden.

When used sarcastically especially among friends who have no ill intentions, the results can be humor. Sarcasm is also closely connected to Irony but mainly determined by tone variations. Humour is thus an essential aspect of interaction because it forms a social bond between presenter and listener.

Examples of gestures

Body language: Communication can be done through body postures; for instance; folded arms may suggest a defensive or negative feeling. An indication of disagreement can simply be done through shaking the head, particularly when someone is speaking. Excitement can be conveyed through waving hands in the air.

Facial appearance: Eye contact mainly conveys some message. Opening eyes wider during communication or listening indicates excitement, interest or happiness. Direct facial expression includes smile to show happiness or frown to indicate sadness or anger.

Physical contacts: Touching indicates care, interest or affection, but it depends on the environmental setting. Hugging, holding or keeping in contact could mean care. However, teenagers often feel apprehensive due to such contacts, especially by older people or strangers.

Use of symbols, signs and pictorial images: People can easily recognize different simple gestures from pictures, or images. A waving hand often indicates greetings or departure depending on the situation at hand. Showing a thumps-up communicates that all is well.

Makaton: This is the use of dialogue as well as a physical form of communication mechanisms such as symbols or actions. Body expressions, pictures, and signs are combined with speech to make it easier to recognize or understand the meaning.

Use of Signing Language on Cartoons

The electronic age is developing at a very fast rate since there is the availability of diverse communication tools in the industry such as the animated computer-aided designs often meant to inspire or entertain. The technique involves the use of visual signs such as body parts movements, facial expressions and use of shapes.

Facial appearance may include lip-reading that involves keenly observing the speaker’s lips, tongue, and facial changes as he/she speaks. The receiver needs to keenly observe directly and avoid visual interruptions. In line with Galinanes, sign language is, therefore, a fully developed human natural language that is often enhanced in cartoons to bring about incitement and enable the storyline to come out more clearly due to the imagery gestures (2000, p.8).

The art of imagery conceptualization particularly the use of gestures, and similar expressions is a continual discovery in the field of language production. According to Galinanes, illustration or sign of an object signifies the “meaning, function, semantic, conceptual domain and content” while speech or words shows the “signs, symbols, structure and form” of a language (2000, p.8).

There is thus an inherent connection between words and meaning, but the later emerges clearly from signing and gesturing. Signs and gestures, therefore, express the true meaning of words in written or spoken form. Recent studies concerning signing emphasize the arbitral nature of the linguistic symbols, which are often motivated by the ability to understand the used icons.

The connection between the form of language and importance is thus the conscious need of the producer to ensure that the receiver understands the meaning. “The forms used to represent concepts…. is structured to make the link obvious, within limits of cognitive ability, memory”(Susan, 2005, p.282).

The main assumption on communicated speech is that words mean exactly or approximately the same thing to the receiver as they do to the communicator. Today, computer languages have a universal form of coding, ciphers and decipher that ensure there is a direct and an invariant form of relationship between a form of code and resulting meaning.

However, human languages are not ideal for establishing signing systems since there is a wide variation of meaning depending on the individual’s interpretation. The newly introduced functions appear as new concepts, situations or perspectives that a speaker may wish to express — the audio differences such as pronunciation cause humorous or improper understanding of a message.

The actual English language, therefore, fails to bring in a stronger bond between form and meaning since it is not certain or arbitrary. Normal language in written or spoken form is good enough to allow communication but flexible enough to invite human creativity, thus supports varying messages. A language is thus a symbolic system with interconnected forms that allow users to have various interpretations creatively in the aim of communication.

Although gesturing may easily escape the listener particularly given the diversification of the cultural groups, the ability to perceive speech is enhanced in a better way by gestures. In the comic industries, the animated forms are often presented in patterned features to enhance both understanding and provide the anticipated amusement.

Present studies concerning gesturing during speech indicate that coordination of the body parts highly depends on patterns of speech such as tone (Galinanes, 2000, p.201). Gestures associable with vocals, therefore, have a close connection to the physical body gestures during the speech. Arguably, gesturing is a bi-modal concept involving both sound and physical movement of the body.

The body movements, rhythms associable to the idea being communicated, emphasis, and modulation connected to features of speech determine audience understanding and interest, especially within the comic industry.

Analysis of Gestures in Sign Language

Various linguistic forms such as speech may determine the extent of gesturing. The categorically gestural movements to convey meaning often accompany spoken language. Gestures thus connect to the true meaning and are conveyed simultaneously during the speech. Hands often accompany spoken sounds with more expressive gestures.

Comedians who are involved in cartoon stories gesture widely. Majority of the gestures offer a stimulus that is imagery and describe entities as well as actions that contribute to the storyline. Artists involved in cartoon characters are a speaker who tries to describe various events on a given storyline.

The events often differ widely in various aspects, but the gestures have to depict the meaning and accompany the narrator’s speech. Gesturing in such a situation is thus a highly sensitive aspect that is required to disclose meaning from the narrative. Gestures often differ due to the hand shapes and the type of motion involved.

In comparison to signing, it is not obligatory to have gestures in speech-language. The gestures involved in such cartoon storyline are thus meant to support the already sufficient descriptive speech. The speaker may present some of the narration without gesturing, but they may occur subconsciously.


A cartoon character manifests clearly through Iconic entities, scenes and the relationship of entities within a topic or dialogue. Communication emerges clearly due to body movements, especially y shaping of hands and fingers in space during the show. Metaphorical or rhetorical signs that depict ideas can also be archived through hand movements.

Speech intonation is another feature common with cartoons and humorous communications. To effectively express and emphasize meaning the speakers can vary dimensions of speech, for instance, lengthening of syllables in a language to depict purpose. Altering pitch to a high or low level, shorter or longer syllables indicate different time intervals or express a gestural representation.

Reference List

Cisneros, R., Alexanian, J., Begay, J.,& Goldberg, M. (n.d.). The Language of Humor: Navajo. University of New Mexico. Mexico City.

Galinanes, C. L. (2000). Relevance Theory, Humour, and the Narrative Structure of Humorous Novels. Galicia, Spain. University of Vigo.

Hartl, S. K. H. (2008). Recursion and the Language Faculty: On the Evolution of the Concept in Generative Grammar. Hesse, Germany: University of Kassel.

Koster, J. (2007). Recursion and the Lexicon in Human Languages. Illinois, IL:Illinois State University.

Shelly, S., & Schneck, J. (1998). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Learning Sign Language. New York, NY: Macmillan Company Limited.

Susan, D. (2005). Gesture in Signing: A Case Study from Taiwan Sign Language. Illinois, IL: University of Chicago Press.

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